Study Says Night Owls More Likely to Be Psychopaths

The busy clacking of keys on laptops until the wee hours of the morn is common in libraries all across university campuses nationwide. The phrase "burning the midnight oil" has taken on a new meaning, with students boasting of all-nighters on a regular basis. Of course, college students don't just study during these night hours. Some watch films, go out and party, or find other things to do with their time. However, does our intense nighttime activity say something about our personalities?

Apparently it does.

A psychology study was recently done by researchers from Liverpool Hope University and the University of Western Sydney, given to over 250 students. According to this study, published by psychology journal Personality and Individual Differences, "night owls" are more likely to have what are known as "Dark Triad" characteristics. In psychology, the Dark Triad is comprised of narcissism (the tendency to seek admiration and special treatment), Machiavellianism (a desire to manipulate others), and psychopathy (an inclination toward callousness and insensitivity). The study also showed that night owls possess a higher level of self-entitlement and are likely to exploit others. 

Before us night owls pat ourselves on the backs for being "badass" and "cool" or, on the flip side, get defensive, let's consider the shortcomings of the survey. College students' behavioral patterns are not representative of the whole population, and there are some people who are forced to adopt a "night owl" persona, such as those who work late-night shifts. Additionally, there is no connection found between the sex of the participants and likelihood of possessing the traits and having an evening preference. On a more common-sense level, the way we sleep also does not necessarily define us as human beings. 

However, there is a potential evolutionary reason offered for the connection between personality and sleeping patterns: that nighttime is effective for those pursuing a fast-life strategy, which is common among those who have Dark Triad characteristics. According to researcher Dr. Jonason from University of Western Sydney, those who have Dark Triad characteristics are more likely to exploit a "low-light environment where others are sleeping and have diminished cognitive functioning." Some of the darkest figures in the world's history, including Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin, were night owls. It can be said that they exploited the "dark times" of their respective countries to execute their own agendas.

But being a night owl is not all bad. It turns out that we are the creative introverts, the poets, the artists, and the actors. We are the ones who are able to deal with jet lag and shifts in work better than the morning larks.

The world, however, is never that black and white. In many cases, people are not either one or another. In fact, they may change over time and with age. The general consensus (borne out by both academic studies and layman's observations) is that we tend to sleep earlier as we get older.

Are all of us at the library or at the club very late in the night sinister or entitled? Probably not. Do we function very differently from our peers who are morning larks? Mostly. But, at the end of the day — or night, whichever you prefer — our sleep patterns need not define who we are as people. 

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Anjana Sreedhar

Anjana is a passionate NYU student studying International Relations and Gender and Sexuality. She is also a PolicyMic writing intern who enjoys following the news and hopes to work in international development, particularly improving reproductive health of women and girls. When not studying, working, or researching, you'll find her editing for the NYU Journal of Politics and International Affairs, writing for NYU Generasian and Washington Square News, or watching Downton Abbey with a cup of masala chai.

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